Overwhelmed by the available chemistry resources? Looking for new chemistry teaching ideas? Elementary Articles is the place for chemistry, education, and everything else.

Elementary Articles is the official blog for the RSC's Learn Chemistry – your home for chemistry education resources and activities.

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The best presents are always those that have involved just a little bit more thought and obviously the ultimate gift (perhaps with the exception of that enormous reindeer-motif sweater you got a few years ago) is one that has been handmade especially for you. Students from local schools had the opportunity to put their practical skills to the test doing just that at a ChemNet event held on 18 December at the University of Glamorgan

Under the expert guidance of Dr Suzy Kean, 18 budding chemists from local schools discovered how to make scented bath bombs in a classic metal carbonate reaction; they created festively coloured tea lights which will burn with differently coloured flames and in the final activity the laboratory became temptingly scented with sugary smells of homemade crunchy honeycomb (but of course this couldn’t be consumed for health and safety reasons). Earlier in the day, the students found out how to grow their own crystal Christmas trees.  

Before going home with their own ‘goody bags’ of handmade gifts for mums, grannies or sisters, the students were treated to commercially made chocolate-covered honeycomb and magic Christmas tree kits kindly donated by Dr Dayna Mason, the Regional Coordinator for the RSC in Wales. However, I’m sure that next time a last-minute gift is needed these students will be having a go at doing some chemistry in their own kitchens in order to create the perfect gift.

I am hoping to run a similar event for students aged 14-16 or 16-18 somewhere in the South West region, so if you would like to host a crafty chemistry event at your school, college or university in time for next Christmas please do get in touch with me, Beth Anderson, the Regional Coordinator in the South West. Why wait until Christmas! How about arranging this for Valentine’s day, Mother’s day or just any day you feel inspired to do some creative chemistry!
Beth Anderson is RSC Regional Coordinator for South West England and works with the education team.
Contact her at
Posted by Beth Anderson on Jan 8, 2013 11:06 AM GMT
If Thomas Hardy had been a science teacher, his darkling thrush in the eponymous poem would surely have sung about the coming Association of Science Education conference - high on his agenda for the new year.

And whilst less blast-beruffled than we were at Liverpool in early 2012, we were no less excited about our plans for the coming year when we arrived at Reading on Wednesday. Item one for the Learn Chemistry team - release a major new update to the site!

And so, yesterday, in between busying ourselves with the world of science education at ASE 2013, we quietly updated our flagship home for chemistry education resources and services. 

We've added a bunch of visible and not-so-visible changes - many in response to user feedback, and many that we trust our users will enjoy and make the most of. Here's a quick run-down:

  • Bolder, simpler homepage. In response to user feedback we've simplified the shop window for Learn Chemistry. Now the focus of attention is on four key areas - search and browse (top), highlighted resources (middle left), community and news (middle right), and key site areas and links (bottom row).
  • New Logo! The Learn Chemistry Octopus is there, but he's making a little bit of way for our message: 'Enhancing learning and teaching with the RSC'. It does what it says on the tin.
  • Improved search results. Hitherto searching for, say, 'Protein Chemistry' yielded a surfeit of 'chemistry' results, and not enough 'protein chemistry' results. Jeff, our database guru, has made this aspect of search more useful and intuitive.
  • New resource browser. Below the search bar you can quickly and easily narrow the huge list of resources and data pages on Learn Chemistry from >3400 to a manageable dozen or so with just a handful of clicks. Select age range, audience, subject, context, or media to get rapidly to the right place.
  • New information panels on the homepage. Easier and more fun to browse around, with bigger, bolder images, and clearer text.
  • New Talk Chemistry community panel. The homepage now features a rotating feed of the latest comments from our 1000-user-strong chemistry teacher community on MyRSC.
  • New newsletter and feedback links on every page. All pages now have a combined social and contact panel. Let us know what you think, or register for updates using the feedback and newsletter links.
  • More compact and cleaner results listings. We've standardised and cleaned up the design scheme for our resource results listings, and added a nifty colour-coding system that helps you see at a glance which results are substance pages, resources, course material, and so on. 
  • Better resource video and document viewing pages. We've widened our resource pages - adding a nifty browser, and quadrupling the area for document and video previews. Web links will now also display either on the resource page, or will link you directly to the destination without the need to click through manually.
We hope you like what we've been up to. 2013 will be a busy and exciting year for us at RSC Education, so continue to watch this space for technical and design updates that will help you get even more out of our resources and tools for chemistry education.

PS: A big thanks to the team at Rave, James Bennett, Jeff White, and Rich Grandison for toiling away on the site whilst we drank Bellinis and had our feet massaged at ASE... 
Posted by Duncan McMillan on Jan 4, 2013 11:55 PM GMT
Christmas is coming, and the goose is getting fat  Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are on their way!

The RSC last week confirmed it would be sponsoring the 2012 Christmas Lectures from the Royal Institution. The 2012 lectures, titled, The Modern Alchemist, are presented by Peter Wothers, FRSC, of the University of Cambridge. The lectures for school children, recorded by the BBC, have been a seasonal fixture since they began in 1825, set up by the self-taught legend of the physical and chemical sciences, Michael Faraday.

Recording took place last week at the Ri's famous lecture theatre in London and was a great success. 16 lucky ChemNet members attended a preview event earlier in December, and six RSC members and their children attended the three lectures last week. The lectures will be broadcast on the BBC on the 26th, 27th, and 28th December, and available for up to a week thereafter on iPlayer.

The three lectures take an alchemical theme, with a decidedly modern scientific twist:
Lecture one, The Elixir of Life, airs on the 26th (Boxing Day),
Lecture two, The Fountain of Youth, airs on the 27th,
Lecture three, The Philosopher's Stone, airs on the 28th.

RSC is proud to sponsor the 2012 lectures, not least because our own Fellow, Dr Wothers, is the host. Thanks to our involvement in this year's lectures we'll soon be able to bring you exclusive video content and supporting material from the Christmas lectures, selected for educational audiences, in early 2013.

Further, if you've not yet seen the Ri's excellent advent calendar, then make sure you have a look at http://advent.richannel.org/. The interactive advent calendar shows a short video clip every day up to Christmas, featuring a scientist or science communicator waxing lyrical about their favourite element (real and fictional).

From Andrea Sella discussing the filtering powers of didymium lenses, to Mark Miodownik discussing Oxygen, the Ri Channel videos are well worth a look, and worth sharing in the classroom, even after Christmas.

Ros Onions from Learn Chemistry in her Christmas SweaterFrom the Ri back to the RSC. Learn Chemistry's very own Rosalind Onions is a Christmas star in her home-made festive sweater, featured both in our excellent Chemistry Christmas song, and on the Guardian's Christmas sweater online album.

If you're stuck for presents, why not give a great chemistry educator a Christmas gift they won't forget - a nomination for one of the RSC's prestigious Education Awards. The Periodic Table of Video's Martyn Poliakoff is a previous winner of the Nyholm Prize.

Nominations close on the 15th January, and you can add your nomination online.

If you're attending the 2013 Association for Science Education conference and show at the University of Reading, be sure to stop by and chat to the team from RSC Education, at stand CS48. The conference, which begins early enough for heads still to be sore and stomachs full from festive indulgence, open on Thursday 3rd of January. Put it in your diary if you've not already.

But whatever your plans for the new year, have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year from all at RSC Education and Learn Chemistry!
Posted by Duncan McMillan on Dec 18, 2012 12:30 PM GMT
As a student in my final year studying Education and Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, I’m currently undertaking a research project investigating the assumptions we make when learning and explaining Chemistry.  As part of the INSTRUCT Research Group, we’re hoping the work will help us understand why Chemistry can be one of the most difficult subjects for students at school. 

In order to do this, we’re looking for students aged 16-18 who are studying any sciences at AS/A Level standard to complete our online survey.  It should take around 20 minutes to complete, and students can win a £25 Amazon voucher!  Students will be presented with chemical scenarios and then asked to answer questions based on the situation described.  They will also be asked some demographic questions, but the survey is entirely anonymous.

The outcome of this research project will hopefully lead on to further work investigating why students struggle so much with Chemistry.  So I’d like to encourage teachers to pass the survey on to their AS/A Level classes and ask students to complete it in their own time, if there’s no time in class.  I’ll be blogging here as the project progresses and hopefully the conclusions will be of interest to you all!

Our survey can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/KQCDYGT

If you’d like more information about our research group, our website is here.
Posted by Elizabeth McLoughlin on Dec 13, 2012 8:51 PM GMT
The latest additions to our online interactive Gridlocks puzzles have gone live! We’ve added five more puzzles to the 11-14 set (acids and alkalis, pollutants in the air, tests for gases, rock types and apparatus diagrams) and another puzzle to the 14-16 selection (units of volume).

Gridlocks are based on the ideas behind sudoku and are suitable for an episode in a lesson or homework. They are designed as follow up activities rather than an introduction to a topic; the students should have met at least some of the data the gridlocks are based on.

There is a video walkthrough for teachers and/or students to have a step-by-step guide on how to solve Gridlocks puzzles.

There are also more than 30 other interactive puzzles, as well as another 65 that can be printed off (from Learn Chemistry) and given to a class.

Why Gridlocks?
The gridlocks puzzles give students a problem solving context for learning a subject. There can be an aspect of competition as well: who solved the most, who was quickest or who made the least mistakes.

The students need to engage with the factual information the gridlock is based on. In order to solve the puzzle they need to recall the relationships between the data established in the first part of the activity. Whilst they are solving the gridlocks they should find themselves referring to the initial data repeatedly so much so that they recall a fair bit of it by the end.

It develops some important thinking skills. The students have to survey the data given in the gridlock to find which squares can initially be filled in. They cannot simply choose a square at random and fill it in because there may not be enough information yet in the grid to narrow down the options to one possible answer. This thinking skill is sadly missing in the students who, given a titration calculation want to straight multiply a concentration by a volume to give the moles of the reactant asks for despite not having all the relevant information yet. They also allow them to develop logical reasoning e.g. 'it has to be x because it can't be w, y or z'.
Posted by Alexandra Kersting on Dec 11, 2012 2:22 PM GMT
OTES content partnern Friday I learned that the very popular RSC Learn Chemistry page on the TES resources site has become a featured content partner in the TES Secondary Chemistry Teaching Resources page.

This is great news, and an endorsement of the quality of resources in the modest selection posted to our TES page, such as Starters for Ten and Exhibition Chemistry.

If you have favourite RSC resources you think we should feature on the TES site, let us know, at learn-chemistry@rsc.org.
Posted by Duncan McMillan on Dec 10, 2012 9:30 AM GMT
A Regional Coordinator’s job is never dull! This month I’ve had five very different RSC ChemNet events in my region:
Plum puddings, prizes and pizza
I headed up to Wrexham on the 14th November to attend the RSC ChemNet event hosted by Techniquest Glyndŵr. I joined more than 50 students for the evening and had an absolute ball! We got to play with the science exhibits before heading to the theatre where we got the low-down on the history of the atom (thanks to Dawn from Techniquest Glyndŵr). With our brains switched on (and some fun prizes already awarded), we settled in for the chemistry quiz with Quizmaster Andy (Head of Chemistry at Alun School, Mold). Andy’s questions kept us all guessing and the pub-quiz style ensured that everyone got at least one point on the scoreboard. The evening finished with style - pizza and prizes!
Sustainable Energy Supply - Hydrogen as a Fuel for the Future?
Two days later, Jon Maddy gave a really interesting lecture at Christ College, Brecon. The audience was keen to discover more about the challenges and possible solutions of future transport and they asked some really insightful questions. The event was organised by the South Wales West Local Section in association with RSC ChemNet.
Chemistry at Cardiff University
On the 21st November, 30 school students, parents and teachers spent the evening in the School of Chemistry finding out all about studying chemistry at Cardiff University. Dr Tom Tatchell, the admissions tutor, gave a very informative overview and then undergraduates Gabriella, Ryan and Harvey along with PhD student Ollie shared their reasons for choosing to study chemistry at Cardiff University. They then took the school students for a tour of the Student Union whilst the parents and teachers stayed for a Q&A session. Everyone came back together for a look around the department followed by pizza and an informal chat. Feedback from the event was very positive and attendees appreciated the information.
CSI Swansea
My penultimate RSC ChemNet event for the month was hosted by SPECIFIC at the Baglan Bay Innovation & Knowledge Centre. Twenty RSC ChemNet members were lucky enough to become criminal investigators for the afternoon, working in small groups to solve the murder of a leading researcher (don’t worry, it wasn’t a real crime!). With help from the Swansea University researchers working at SPECIFIC, each group analysed a pack of collected evidence and information on the possible suspects to work out who committed the murder. We got to see some of the high-tech equipment that they use at SPECIFIC, including FTIR, SEM/EDX and even state-of-the-art Scanning Kelvin Probe methods that were pioneered in Swansea! It was great to be able to see inside a research facility like SPECIFIC – all of the researchers seem to enjoy working there (although that may have been because they were putting up the Christmas tree and eating mince pies that afternoon…).
The Chemistry of Light
November finished with a flash as Dr Peter Douglas and Dr Mike Garley gave us an overview of the interaction between chemistry and light and showed us the importance of photochemistry in our world. We learned how to make light from electricity, heat and chemical reactions. We saw how we use light in communication, electronics, medicine and entertainment (I want some of the UV-active nail polish!). Finally, we found out how photochemists are working towards a cleaner, brighter future - devising new methods to convert sunlight into useful energy and using light to clean up pollution. The lecture was part of the Swansea Science Café and was co-sponsored by the RSC South Wales West Local Section in association with RSC ChemNet.

As you can see it’s been a busy month but I’m already looking forward to the next RSC ChemNet events. Your students can find out about the upcoming events by signing up to RSC ChemNet (it’s free!!).  And don’t forget that you can request an RSC ChemNet visit (a free talk about careers in chemistry) by filling out the online booking form.

Dayna Mason is RSC Regional Coordinator for Wales and works with the education team.
Contact her at masondn@cardiff.ac.uk
Posted by Dayna Mason on Dec 2, 2012 5:03 PM GMT
Overnight Talk Chemistry has hit 1000 members! In fact, this morning’s check showed we have 1002 members (up to 1009 as I write this!).
The automatic sign up to Talk Chemistry for new teachers to MyRSC is making Talk Chemistry the go to place for chemistry educationalists, new and not so new! Increased conversations, including ‘explaining concentrated and dilute acid to year 7s’ and ‘time to equilibrium’ have helped show our new members what the Talk Chemistry community is interested in. With the opportunity to give us your feedback on GCSE reform and the new Learn Chemistry homepage Talk Chemistry has shown we are interested in what the community wants and that we can help funnel your voice to the relevant people.

Remember, RSC Education is the voice of chemistry education, and our voice is the voice of our members and contributors. Our new strapline Enhancing learning and teaching with the RSC is what Talk Chemistry members are doing – enhancing the learning and teaching of chemistry; s
o come join the conversation, shape chemistry education.
Posted by Alexandra Kersting on Nov 21, 2012 9:53 PM GMT
Learn Chemistry is a finalist for the BETT 2013 Awards, in the category "ICT Tools for Learning and Teaching"!

It's a great achievement to be named a finalist for a BETT award. BETT is Europe's largest educational technology show, and possibly the second largest in the world.

The exhibition is attended by thousands of teachers, ICT supervisors, education authority figures and government ministers from dozens of countries, attracted by the UK's high, and deserved, reputation for excellence in education technology.

The ICT Tools for Learning and Teaching describes a huge amount of our development work with Learn Chemistry. We've designed the site to act as a hub for the tools and services teachers and students need to learn chemistry, with highlights such as:

Spectraschool (an interactive home for budding analytical chemists), Mechanism Inspector (a comprehensive exploration of organic mechanisms),  On This Day in Chemistry (a resource-a-day site that every chemistry teacher should bookmark), Chemistry in Sport (a resource and global experiment hub launched in time for London 2012), Gridlocks (dozens of interactives for challenging and testing chemistry students), Chemistry in Your Cupboard (an exploration of the chemistry of everday products),  and of course our fabulous Visual Elements Periodic Table.

We're incredibly proud of this achievement for a site not yet a year old, not least because we've just refined our official tagline for Learn Chemistry, and it pretty much matches the category in which we're a finalist:

Enhancing Learning and Teaching with the Royal Society of Chemistry.
If you're learning or teaching chemistry, at any level, our goal is to be the first place you come for tools, resources, training, activities, outreach - you name it. We've got a long way to go yet, but if the news from BETT is anything to go by, we're on the right track!
Posted by Duncan McMillan on Nov 19, 2012 12:30 PM GMT
Part 2 of the Alchemy resource release in now here! The videos of the industrial process ranging from aluminium extraction to sulfuric acid production have now been added to the RSC YouTube channel. These videos can be reached from Learn Chemistry through the individual Alchemy topic resources, as well as being collated into one resource here.

These short video clips ranging between 4 and 7 minutes illustrate 15 industrial processes. They can be viewed online by students or downloaded for showing in class.

The full list is:
Aluminium Extraction
Chemicals from Salt
Combinatorial Chemistry
Computational Chemistry
Copper Refining
Gases from Air
Iron and Steel
Making Medicines
Nitric Acid
Oil Refining
Sulfuric Acid
Posted by Alexandra Kersting on Nov 14, 2012 11:36 AM GMT
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